Leytonstone News

Leytonstone estate regeneration plans put on hold

It’s the second time in six years that the council has reconsidered plans to regenerate the Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers which are both affected by fire safety issues, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Plans to demolish a Leytonstone council estate that is plagued by fire safety concerns have been put on ice.

Last July Waltham Forest Council staff told residents of the eleven-storey Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers in Montague Road that they envisioned rebuilding the estate to create “circa 450-500 new homes”.

The plan to “regenerate” the estate came four years into an unfinished refurbishment and safety works programme that has cost at least £10million.

However, the council wrote to residents twice in early February, first to announce that flammable cladding will be removed from the building and two days later to inform them that proposals to demolish the two blocks will be delayed due to the “challenging economic climate”.

Deputy leader Ahsan Khan said the council is “committed” to balloting residents to decide which “investment options” to take forward in the future.

This is the second time in six years that the council has dropped plans to regenerate the estate.

In 2018, the council dropped plans to add a new “infill” building while stripping back and refurbishing the existing buildings after moving more than 100 residents to council housing elsewhere.

More urgently, the council says it has decided to remove “expanded polystyrene (EPS)” insulation on the outside of the building following a London Fire Brigade (LFB) enforcement notice issued in November.

However, the Fred Wigg and John Walsh tenants and residents association (TRA) has obtained the fire brigade’s full enforcement notice which calls into question how fire safety risks have been managed in the buildings but does not order the cladding’s removal.

One of the 14 criticisms the notice makes – many questioning conclusions reached by previous fire risk assessments carried out by the council’s contractor – is that fire detection should have been installed in the communal areas.

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This would “replace” waking watch fire wardens who have been on duty in each tower 24-hours a day since 2020, at a cost of millions.

The only direct reference the notice makes to cladding is to recommend that the council change its fire strategy from “stay put” to “simultaneous evacuation”.

In contrast, a recent fire risk assessment produced by a council appointed contractor called removing cladding a “long-term solution”.

In a statement, the TRA said the council risked using the rest of the funding set aside for the estate on removing insulation rather than “tenants’ priority” – installing new kitchens and bathrooms.

They added: “Removing one type of insulation without having the money to replace it, would leave our homes colder and facing the same mould and damp as 20 years ago before the insulation was installed.

“As the fire brigade report says the council’s failure to install a fire alarm system in the common parts means the waking watch is still there – after four years it has wasted up to £2million of tenants’ money.

“As usual, the council has been secretive about the position and true options for our homes.”

Other serious concerns raised by fire brigade inspectors include a lack of up-to-date signage on stairs, a lack of regular door safety checks, an out-of-date fire evacuation strategy and “inadequate” emergency routes.

It confirmed a fear that has long been raised by tenants, that smoke ventilation windows in hallways were blocked by metal shutters and contractor’s hoists which would create “smoke filled” communal areas in the event of a fire.

The council had also failed to address “deficiencies” in the protected communal routes out of each building, in particular by fitting doors that are not fire resistant for at least 30 minutes.

Waltham Forest Council has until October this year to comply with the enforcement notice.

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